The Fire Sermon: A cover designer’s perspective (Alexandra Allden)

Yesterday I wrote about the cover design process from the author’s perspective. Today, Alexandra Allden, the wonderful HarperVoyager cover designer who created The Fire Sermon‘s covers, was kind enough to give her point of view on the process of making the beautiful paperback cover:

The Phoenix Cover – Creating the Fire Sermon paperback from the pages of the hardback

Translating a hardback design into paperback is never easy, especially when the hardback is a tough act to follow. However The Fire Sermon paperback turned into a labour of love for me, it was wonderful to be so hands on creatively.

When the paperback was briefed, we initially looked at an adaptation of the hardback cover, but as time went on, it seemed that we should go with a cover that had more narrative. Something that reflected the wonderful world that Francesca had written in this first book. So when my editor, Natasha Bardon, showed an image of a paper-cut house as a possible cover steer, she had caught my attention. My mind turned back to those experimental days of uni when I used to make paper sculptures; I couldn’t wait to get the scalpel mat out!

The scene I chose to bring to life was one that really stuck with me in the book. The part where Kip and Cass are running through a forest engulfed in flames, wonderfully reflecting the blast that destroyed the world at the beginning. I used the pages of the hardback to create the sculpture, loving the idea of Francesca Haig’s words creating her own cover. One creative form making another, as much as I knew that cutting up a book would hurt my bookish sensibilities (it’s for a good cause!).

The first step in creating the sculpture was getting the PVA glue out! I then moulded the papier-mâché base that would form the hills my forest sat on. Next, after three attempts in creating different paper trees, I used our work glue machine to make the book pages into sticky tape. Once these were glued onto card, I then cut out the trees, slotting them into the base to create the forest. I illustrated a simple silhouette of Kip pulling Cass along with his one hand, cutting these out carefully and placing them in the centre of the action. With the hardback having such bright orange endpapers, I reused these as the flames that ran across the base. The finishing touch was to add LED lights, behind each flame and tree.

step by step - small
creating the paper-cut cover

My previous art director Henry and I set up one of the offices at work into a photography studio, trying to get the office as dark as possible to take advantage of the lights. Once we took the shots, I then cleaned it up on the computer. Next was working on the typography, after looking at different fonts, I created scratchy hand-painted type which seemed to fit in with the style more.

step by step2
creating the fonts

At this point we showed the cover to Francesca, who although loving the concept, had some fantastic suggestions to tweaking the design that made the final cover perfect.  On her suggestion, I tweaked the trees to look more dystopian and gnarled, I also looked again at the shape of Cass, tweaking her to look more like the strong character from the book, running away bravely. Francesca amazingly spotted the fact that Kip’s silhouette appeared quite empty of type, reflecting his loss of identity. As a happy accident, her spot added even more meaning to my cover.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 11.32.03
original draft of the cover
Final copy - small
final version of the cover (note changed arm, trees, and more flames)

The final cover turned out better than I ever imagined it could, especially when I never knew if the reality would match up to the idea in my head. With both of these formats of The Fire Sermon, I have been given the chance to explore areas of design that I had previously, pushing all of my creative boundaries. For this reason these will be two of my favourite covers and hopefully create the perfect package for the wonderful book inside.

Final copy copy
final paperback cover (back, spine, and front)